While the country prepared to endure yet another lockdown, one church in Cheltenham decided 2021 was the year for a fresh start, resolving to Live Well in Body, Mind and Spirit. Malc Allen, Rector of St Michael and All Angels in Bishop’s Cleeve, and trainee Pioneer Minister Lucy Balbour put their heads together to create a full programme of support for people online.
From daily guided silences live on Facebook, where people are gently led into quiet time with God, to small groups looking at big issues of mental health, this church is determined to meet people exactly where they are.
Malc said, “I put together a short advert for my Sunday talk each week for our local community Facebook group. The other day I was recognised in Tesco by someone who had never met me but had seen my online messages. Lots of people who ‘like’ the adverts or the video are not regular church members and we have a much wider fringe of people connected with our church now. Some people have said to me, “On Facebook, we feel like you’re speaking just to us and that’s what we love.”
“We did wonder whether people would be tired or ‘Zoomed out’ but people are telling us that actually they need this content more than ever.”
“We want to reach people with the message of hope as often as we can, wherever they are, and provide opportunities for them to connect with us. Jesus drew a crowd, and a few of them became disciples. We don’t want to just be delivering programmes or courses, we want to be on that learning and growing journey with people.”
One of Malc’s new congregation members finds that the online approach really suits him. Despite only attending church occasionally in real life, this man said he really enjoyed the online offering and said he wanted to ‘join’. I told him, “You are already a member of our church.”
“As a church, we are studying issues around mental health – one talk called ‘God, faith and care when mental health is at its bleakest’, which touched on psychosis and suicide, attracted more than 800 people.
And as well as mental and spiritual health, physical health will also be given attention. Pioneer Ordinand Lucy loves sport and has been making connections with other organisations to start some free classes online.
She said, “’I have grown up in a very sporty family and seen first-hand the difference exercise and sport can have on people’s wellbeing. I believe the holistic health of our community matters to God and I love seeing the Church supporting people on their spiritual, mental and physical health journeys.”
Starting this month there will be Pilates classes with a Christian focus from Jon Taylor, (OneLife), and some pre and postnatal exercise classes with Fresh Hope fitness as well as mindfulness, wider walks and outdoor fitness.
Malc said, “There are some people I think we will connect with through sport who wouldn’t think of coming into a church building, but might be happy to talk about their fitness and perhaps learn a little more about faith through the people they meet.”